20 December 2011

Bay of Plenty Airways - Its Place in NZ's Aviation History

Bruce Gavin continues reflecting on Bay of Plenty Airways and, in particular, its place in New Zealand's aviation history.
Bay of Plenty Airways Limited (1958-1961), including its predecessor Tauranga Air Services Limited (1956-1958), was a significant small airline in New Zealand’s aviation history for a number of reasons. Formed in the 1950s through the drive and hard work of Tauranga resident, A.W. ‘Alf’ Bartlett who saw that Tauranga, Rotorua and Whakatane were poorly served by air transport. Several Bay of Plenty residents supported his initiative and invested in the company. The airline built up tremendous local support with its provision of fast frequent air services from these three centres (and also Opotiki for a short time), to Auckland and later Wellington. In the end the airline suffered tragedy, including the death of founder Alf Bartlett, when the Aero Commander aircraft ZK-BWA broke up in the air over Mount Ruapehu on 21 November 1961.
The airline deserves recognition for many reasons, including:

The company was the first private New Zealand regional commuter airline to operate fast frequent multi-sector commuter air services that allowed Bay of Plenty people the opportunity to spend a business day in Auckland and return home the same day. The service also allowed Auckland people to commute to the Bay of Plenty and return the same day.

The airline greatly increased the ‘airmindedness’ of Bay of Plenty people and led to the faster development of airports at Rotorua and Whakatane.

It was the first private airline to provide sustained all-weather operations using modern twin-engine aircraft with full capability for flights in instrument conditions.
The airline was the first commuter airline in New Zealand to have its pilots licensed to operate regular operations by a single pilot in instrument conditions.

On 19 February 1961 the Aero Commander carried three parachutists (Peter Dawson, Bill Adams and Tokehau ‘Sammy’ Samuels to a height of 27,068 feet over Matamata to claim the New Zealand height record. 
Aero Commander ZK-BWA with its later high visibility tail. Photo : D Noble Collection
The Aero Commander [apart from NAC’s Vickers Viscounts, which were then being introduced to main trunk air routes] was the fastest aircraft on New Zealand’s scheduled air services of the late 1950s/early 1960s era.

Bay of Plenty Airways was the pioneer of the direct Bay of Plenty to Wellington air route.

For over four years the airline carried Auckland’s afternoon newspaper, The Auckland Star, to the three Bay of Plenty centres for same afternoon delivery to homes and shops, six days a week.

The company purchased a set of runway approach lights to allow night operations into Tauranga, particularly in the winter months.

The airline was approved to carry Royal Airmail on its services.

Bay of Plenty Airways was the only small private regional airline to obtain a shareholding from the Government owned national carrier, NAC.

Bay of Plenty Airways was a portent of the future. After the company closed it was to be over ten years before similar regional airlines became established in New Zealand.      

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